SC Politics

South Carolina Chamber Of Commerce Goes With Interim Leader Amid Search Struggles

The goat rodeo continues …

The increasingly left-leaning South Carolina Chamber of Commerce will be led on an interim basis in 2021 by Swati Patel – its vice president of public policy – as the search for a new leader has apparently failed to produce a promising full-time replacement for outgoing president Ted Pitts.

According to an email message from Tim Arnold – chairman of the chamber’s board of directors – Patel was “asked to serve as our interim CEO to allow appropriate time to complete the CEO search process.”

“With a very strong team around her, and with Swati’s experience at the chamber, we are confident she can lead the organization until a new CEO is named,” Arnold wrote. “We look forward to making a recommendation to the Board regarding our new CEO in the coming months.”

The news is likely to be greeted enthusiastically by supporters of former governor Nikki Haley – who have been pushing for Patel to be named as the next leader of this crony capitalist advocacy outfit on a full-time basis.

It will likely be less favorably received by state lawmakers, who view Patel as part of the problem at this once-influential entity …

Also, the chamber finds itself on the defensive with many of its erstwhile allies in the S.C. State House lobby seeing as Patel had been part of the team interviewing candidates to replace Pitts.

This outlet has spoken with several sources who told us the chamber search process was “tainted” – and that the elevation of Patel will serve only to exacerbate tensions with other Palmetto State “economic development” groups.

“The bad blood is boiling now,” one source familiar with the search process told us, referring to the chamber’s existing problems with other ostensibly pro-business organizations.

Expect these tensions to boil over if Patel winds up getting the job on a full-time basis.

Sources familiar with the situation told us Patel was being “groomed” for the full-time job – a nod to the ongoing influence exerted over this organization by Lou Kennedy of Nephron Pharmaceuticals, who reportedly led an unsuccessful push to have Patel installed on a full-time basis immediately following Pitts’ announcement two months ago.

Kennedy may wind up getting her way after all … although our guess is such a move would not repair the chamber’s badly broken legislative relationships.

Nor would it likely deter the organization’s influential enemies …

The chamber’s latest internal problems come as South Carolina is being forced to reevaluate its historic approach to recruiting jobs and businesses – which has consisted almost exclusively of forcing taxpayers and small businesses to subsidize handouts to large manufacturers.

As we have documented repeatedly over the years, such an approach has never succeeded in expanding employment and raising income levels in the Palmetto State – and is even less likely to do so in the Covid-19 era.

Last week, in a column touting the importance of individual income tax relief (something chambers of commerce ought to embrace), we noted that a new approach to seeking prosperity was required.

Specifically, we referenced University of South Carolina economist Joseph Von Nessen – who discussed the extent to which the evolving American workplace presented the Palmetto State with an opportunity to change its traditional approach to recruiting jobs.

“To the extent that the work-from-home phenomenon becomes a permanent part of the business landscape, South Carolina will have to begin re-thinking its approach to economic development,” Von Nessen told a conference back in September, according to reporter Jessica Holdman of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier. “Economic development may become as much about persuading workers to live in South Carolina and telecommute as it is about direct company recruitment.”

Von Nessen and fellow South Carolina professor Douglas Woodward argued that the flight of citizens from larger cities – whether attributable to rising urban violence or unsustainable costs of living – presented the Palmetto State with a golden recruitment opportunity.

Unfortunately, this is precisely the sort of opportunity the chamber is uniquely ill-equipped to exploit … in fact, we would argue the organization’s prior support for higher taxes and more government spending would position it as a force against the sort of competitive agenda the Palmetto State needs to adopt.




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